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An Interactive Timeline of Self Portraits by Prominent European Painters from 1200 to 1800

A self-portrait is an artistic representation of the creator, whether drawn, painted, photographed, or sculpted by the artist themselves. While the practice of self-portraiture dates back to ancient times, it wasn't until the Early Renaissance, around the mid-fifteenth century, that artists began frequently featuring themselves as the main subject or as significant characters in their works. This shift coincided with the development of better, more affordable mirrors and the rise of panel portraits, prompting many painters, sculptors, and printmakers to explore self-portraiture.

Jean Fouquet's self-portrait, circa 1450, a diminutive yet striking piece crafted in gold on black enamel, stands as one of the earliest distinct self-portraits executed as an independent painting rather than as a component of a larger piece. However, the roots of self-portraiture can be traced back to the Amarna Period of Ancient Egypt, around 1365 B.C. A notable example is the stone-carved depiction of Pharaoh Akhenaten's chief sculptor, Bak, and his wife, Taheri. Remarkably, Bak and Taheri were ordinary individuals, unlike the affluent and influential typically afforded the luxury of portraiture, suggesting deeper, personal motivations behind the creation of this artwork. As Sean Kelly highlights in The Self-Portrait: A Modern View,Sean Kelly, The Self Portrait: A Modern View (Mumbai: Seven Hills Books, 1987). while numerous ancient self-portraits are known, the psychological impetus behind them remains largely enigmatic.

Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) is renowned for being the pioneer in regularly creating self-portraits. However, it is Rembrandt (1606–1669) who is acclaimed for his profound and introspective exploration of self through art.

Frans van Mieris, Self Portrait
Self Portrait
Frans van Mieris the Elder
Oil on panel; 11,3 x 8,4 cm. (oval)
Collection Alte Pinakothek, Munich

The following timeline presents self portraits done by major painters working in Europe from c. 1200 to c. 1850. By scrolling your mouse over the name of each artist, a tooltip pop-up will provide the artist's full name, the date and place of birth as well as a thumbnail example of his work. Click here to access brief summaries of various art movements during the same arc of time.


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